|There was a second LP-release of this one in 1989 on Rhino R1 70605.
The liner notes (by Rockin' Rhino Reagan):
Besides groupies and having 12-inch records pressed on vinyl, what do Frank Zappa, Julie London, Iggy Pop, Barry White, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, Blondie, The Beach Boys, David McCallum, Toot And The Maytals and The Kinks have in common? You guessed it: They and scores of other major artist, along with thousands of lesser-known artists, have performed versions of 'the most easily recognizable' rock song of all time - 'Louie Louie'. How did this particular song come to be an immortal international hit that has been branded by many in the music business as the song that defines rock 'n' roll? The complex history of this three-chord wonder dates back nearly 30 years, and involves a full spectrum of inspiration, luck, talent, rumor and dispute.
The story of 'Louie Louie' begins in late 1955. Richard Berry, a young black musician in Los Angeles, was playing witha Mexican group, Ricky Rivera And The Rhythm Rockers. One of the songs this group performed, 'El Loco Cha Cha' had a rather contagious musical figure in it, which Berry couldn't get out of his head. One night, while waiting backstage to perform at the Harmony Club Ballroom, the words 'Louie Louie' superimposed themselves over the persistent riff in Berry's mind, and 'the rest just fell into place'. In his visualization and creation of the song 'Louie Louie', Berry was influenced by a composition called 'One For My Baby'. This song is sung from the viewpoint of a customer speaking to a bartender named Joe, and saying 'One for my baby, one for the road, set 'em up, Joe.' In Berry's composition, the bartender is Louieand the customer is telling Louie how he intends to sail to Jamaica and find his true love. Berry states that the song's speech pattern and use of Jamaica were partially influenced by his exposure to a lot of Latin music, and partially by Chuck (no relation) Berry's similarly styled 'Havana Moon'.
When he wrote rock 'n' roll's most recorded song, Berry was under contract to Modern Records. Because of a dispute over royalties for the sixty-plus songs he had written for Modern, Berry saved 'Louie Louie' until his contract expired and the song could be released on Flip Records in 1956. The original version was a respectable r&b hit, selling, Berry says, some 130,000 copies. A year later, after sales of this forst version had tapered off, Berry needed some money for his upcoming wedding. He therefore sold the record sales publishing rioghts to 'Louie Louie' and retained only the radio and television performance rights. Berry philosophically chalks this sale up to 'experience'. Who could have predicted the bizarre set of circumstances that would propel the song into a major hit record?
Our story continues some five years later in the unlikely geographical extermity of Seattle, Washington. An obscure singer by the name of Rockin' Robin Roberts discovered the Berry version of 'Louie Louie' while browsing through the bargain bin of a local record store. 'Louie' soon became Roberts' signature song and he took it with him through a succession of various local bands. Finally, after joining one of the more popular local bands, The Wailers (no relation to Bob Marley's contingent), it was decided that Robin would cut the song for the group's own Etiquette Records label. Stylictically the song has a raucous, gospel feel, and upon first listen, one can see how the song evolved from Berry's soft r&b style to The Kingsmen's straight rock 'n' roll style. The single became a mild local hit, and was later rereleased by The Wailers for the extremely succesful Los Angeles-based Liberty records. The single was a flop nationally, but continued to receive attention throughout the Northwest. Its popularity soon spread to neighboring Portland, Oregon, where one night a Top 40 cover band by the name of The Kingsmen were playing a double bill with friendly rivals Paul Revere And The Raiders. Kingsmen band members were watching a rather enthusiastic crowd dance around a jukebox blaring out The Wailers' version of 'Louie Louie'. Since this reaction was exactly what The Kingsmen were looking for in their performances, they resolved to all learn the song separately by their next rehearsal. Lead singer Jack Ely was the only band member who followed through on the pact, and consequently ended up doing the vocals and teaching the song to the rest of the group. (In the process, Ely made an error, and taught the band a 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2-3, 1-2 version of the song, rather than The Wailers' 1-2-3-4, 1-2, 1-2-3-4, 1-2 redition. It is interesting to speculate on the success of the song had Ely not accidentally made the alteration to a somewhat faster pace.) As had been intended, audience response to The Kingsmen's performances of 'Louie Louie' was wildly enthusiastic. The band would get requests to play the song as many as eight or nine times per night. One Friday in May, 1963, the band mischievously decided to do a marathon version of the song to see who could last longer, the dancers or the band. Even bass player Bob Nordby, who didn't sing, warbled through a few verses to keep the song going for appoximately 45 minutes. Despite the band's boredom, audience response was so positive that arrangements were made that night to record 'Louie Louie' the next day.
The recording facilities were, at best, primitive. Mikes were placed next to amps which had been muffled with coats and blankets. Jack Ely's lead vocal was yelled up to a mike suspended near the studio's 15-foot-high-ceiling. The session lasted less than two hours, and cost the group $50. (The next day, Paul Revere And The Raiders, with Mark Lindsay on sax, went into the same studio to record their version of 'Louie Louie'.)
Through their manager's connections, The Kingsmen got 1,000 copies of the record pressed, and began receiving local airplay. Due to a saxophone trend at the time, the Paul Revere version received more Portland airplay than the Kingsmen version. By August, 1963, both versions were slowing in sales. At this point, when the record was not yet a national hit, The Kingsmen had an internal dispute which was to permanently affect the careers of all band members.
Drummer Lynn Easton announced to the group that four years earlier he and his mother had made things 'easier' by shortening paperwork when the group name was being registered. Rather than make all group members and their parents appear and sign forms in front of a notary public, Easton and his mother had 'simplified' matters by registering the band's name in the Easton name only. Easton stated, therefore, that he owned the band's name, and further asserted that he wanted to be the band's front man, forcing Ely to play drums and give up lead vocals. Ely and bassist Nordby both left the group immediately.
Meanwhile, the initial pressing of The Kingsmen's 'Louie Louie' (on the Jerden label) had garnered strong enough audience response on a Boston station that Wand Records picked up the single for pressing and distribution. By September 1963, the single was number 94 in Billboard and climbing rapidly. The final shot-in-the-arm, which boosted the record to the top of the charts for more than four months, was unplanned and unintentional - someone thought the words were dirty. The rumor mill began grinding when people started 'interpreting' Ely's slurred vocals. Numerous versions of what the lyrics 'really' said arose throughout the country. Although there were many different interpretations of what the words were supposed to be, they all shared a common premise: There's an obscenity in there somewhere. The rumors spread as people listened to the record at different speeds and traded different lyrics back and forth. The song was banned from the airwaves in Indiana. The FBI and FCC conducted an investigation, playing the record at every speed from 16 to 78 rpm. Both Ely and Richard Berry were called in to testify as to the lyrical content. The official conclusion was that 'We (the FCC) found the record to be unitelligible at any speed we played it'.
A raw sound (that parents didn't like) and supposedly dirty lyrics: This was an unbeatable combination. The record took off, selling more than eight million copies. The Kingsmen, now under Easton's leadership, were signed to record albums, go on tour, and appear on television programs.All of this without Jack Ely, the voice that had been banned in Indiana. The Kingsmen's first album, 'In Person', was recorded live at a Portland club, with, of course, the exception of one song. The 'Louie Louie' on the album was the original Ely version with applause overdubbed to simulate the live atmosphere of the rest of the LP, much like the Rolling Stones' 'Fortune Teller' on 'Got Live If You Want It'. The appearances of Easton's Kingsmen began to suffer when people who came to see 'Louie Louie' didn't get exactly what they expected. The television appearances on shows like Hullabaloo and Shindig featured Easton lipsyncing to Ely's original vocal. Ely later began performing with a new band billed as 'Jack Ely And The Kingsmen'.
Because of the ticket sales conflicts with performances of Easton's Kingsmen, the issue was taken to court. Ely was prohibited from using the name 'Kingsmen', and Easton was prohibited from lipsyncing to Ely's original vocal. (As a side note, Ely later recorded a follow-up to the record entitled 'Love That Louie' which shouldn't be confused with Paul Revere And The Raiders' follow-up entitled 'Louie Go Home'.)
In the years following the 1963 success of 'Louie Louie', the song became the rock standard. Does anyone recall a school dance in the 1960s that didn't feature a version of 'Louie Louie'? Major artists also began to do versions of the song. The fact that many of these well-known performers largely did only original material is a testimonial to the widespread acceptance of the song as the definitive rock 'n' roll classic. Artists in other musical genres began to adapt the ultimate rock song to fit their particular musical format. Actor David McCallum did an easy listening version. Toots And The Maytals did a reggae version. Julie London did a middle-of-the-road version. George Duke recorded a fusion version. Barry White, Iggy Pop, Blondie, The Turtles, The Kinks, The Beach Boys.... at this point, it might be easier to compile a list of artists who haven't done the song. The song even became an international hit. Versions were created in Japan, Holland, France, Italy, El Salvador, and Mexico.
While interest in 'Louie Louie' (as well as real rock 'n' roll) waned in the mellow seventies, a series of events near the end of the decade re-propelled 'Louie' into the spotlight. First of all, the song was used as the main theme in the hit movie 'Animal House'. While it is obvious that no other song would have been as appropriate for a film depicting '60s college frat life, there is an unconfirmed rumour that John Belushi insisted the song be used in the movie because 'Louie Louie' was playing on the radio the first time he had sex.
About the same time, the new wave and punk movements brought a new-found respect to '50s and '60s rock 'n' roll. 'Louie Louie' was rediscovered by millions of young rock fans who were only too eager to pay homage to rock 'n' roll's true roots. As in 1963, many bands started including 'Louie Louie' as a regular part of their set. Versions from two of the best young Los Angeles bands appear on this record: the hardcore punks Eddie And The Subtitles, and the grossly underrated neo-folk rockers The Last.
In Addition, even the media began to give 'Louie Louie' its just due. In 1980, two L.A. DJ's, Art Damage and Chuck Steak, began holding weekly 'Battle of the Louie Louie' contests on their KPFK radio show 'Unprovoked Attack'. The jocks would play a number of versions of the song and listeners would call in and vote for their favorite rendition. The following year Strech Riedle, Music Director of KFJC-FM in Los Altos Hills, California, decided to assemble all the versions he could find of his all-time favorite rock song as a special feature on his regular air shift. Riedle was able to obtain 33 versions of 'Louie Louie' which he played consecutively for slightly over an hour and a half. Response to this special was surprisingly good, and Riedle obtained several additional versions from listeners during the program.
By coincidence, KALX-FM in Berkeley had just completed a listener survey to determine their audience's all-time favorite rock song. When 'Louie Louie' topped the poll, KALX expanded Riedle's concept and increased the number of consecutively aired 'Louie' versions to 50 in December 1981. Five months later, KFJC broadcast its second 'Lou-a-thon' with an additionbal 38 versions,pushing the total up to 88 distictly different renditions of the song. Finally, in December 1982, KALX's Amazing Mystery DJ made a Herculean effort, and assembled a 200-version, 12-hour tribute to Richard Berry's rock icon.
The nest step was KFJC's 'Maximum Louie Louie', which aired on August 19, 1983. Over 300 versions were catalogued on a computer playlist for the special. In addition, local bands performed live versions of the song on the air. To add a final touch of authenticity, Richard Berry hosted a portion of the special and even performed a live version of the song.
As a tangible, long-lasting tribute to Berry's never-to-be-equaled classic, Rhino Records has issued this collection containing the most important and definitive versions of the song. From the middle-of-the-road soft stylings of the Sandpipers to the trendy, techno-pop arrangement by Les Dantz And His Orchestra, 'Louie Louie' has permeated every type and class of music, and will doubtlessly be adapted into any new musical styles which evolve in the future.
Editor's note: While this album features what we consider the definitive versions of the song, we realize that everyone's tastes and opinions are different. Therefore, please feel free to write us and let us know what versions of the song you would like to see on a Volume II. Also, if you or your band has recorded a version of the song, we would be very interested in hearing a cassette for possible inclusion in future volumes.
Rockin' Rhino Reagan